By Myra Saturen
April 09, 2014
The day after author Wes Moore learned he'd been chosen a Rhodes Scholar, he noticed "wanted" posters in his Baltimore neighborhood. The name on the posters? The same as his own. Twelve days later, the "other Wes Moore" was arrested for the murder of a police officer and ultimately sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Wes Moore, author of the bestselling The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, spoke to a 750-person audience at Northampton Community College's (NCC) Spartan Center on April 8. Political science major Qaydir Jones had the honor of introducing him.
A Phi Theta Kappa graduate of a two-year college, Valley Forge Military College, Moore transferred to Johns Hopkins University, where he attained Phi Beta Kappa, and went on to study international relations at Oxford University.
After his studies, Moore, a paratrooper and captain in the United States Army, served a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan with the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. He then served as a White House fellow to Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice.
Like the "other Wes Moore," the author experienced hardships and challenges as a youth. His father died when Moore was three, leaving his mother a widow with three children. Uprooted from his neighborhood when his mother moved to the Bronx home of his grandparents, he skipped school often. Finally, Moore's mother followed through on what Moore misperceived as an empty threat and sent him to Valley Forge Military Academy. After five attempts to flee in four days, he began to understand and appreciate the sacrifices family members and friends had made for him. Thereafter, he thrived.
Throughout his talk, Moore championed education. "People always ask you what your major is," he told his listeners, who included many students. "But that is not an important question. The important questions are 'who will you fight for?' 'Who will your degree matter to?' Our responsibility is to fight for those who need and deserve a champion and who do not have the strength to fight for themselves."
Moore passionately believes in educational equity. For this reason, he never really liked the title his publishers chose for his book. Firstly, he said, the book is about more than two young men. "It is about all of us. It is about the decisions we make and the people who help us make them." Also, he said, "there are Wes Moores in our schools, communities and homes. Society is full of 'others', who don't look the way we look, have different bank accounts, come from different families. We are one step away from straddling greatness, and we do not know it."
Occasionally readers complain that Moore's book never explains why two men's lives took such drastically different turns. Moore offers no apology. "There is no one thing," he said. "Parenting is complicated, especially in poor neighborhoods." He rejects the notion that his book is about a "good Wes Moore" and a "bad Wes Moore." "Potential is universal," he said. "Opportunity is not." He speculated that the "other Wes Moore's" life may have been different if his mother had not lost her Pell grant and been forced to drop out of college. At one point in his ten-year's duration correspondence and meetings with the "other Wes Moore," the author asked him whether environment played a role in the men's different paths. Expectations, the "other Wes Moore" answered, lies behind what one can achieve. High expectations are far more likely to yield success, while low expectations often result in low achievement.
Helping make opportunity available, Moore said, is where all of us come in. "We have to be involved, engaged," he said. "Education matters. My education is something no one can take away from me. Make sure that education is attainable for all who want and desire it, not only for those who can afford high tuition costs."
During a question-and-answer period, many students sought advice. Moore urged the students to use their voices to express their opinions and fight for their beliefs. He told them to set a long-term vision, to choose friends wisely and to never fight only for themselves. "What can we do to keep avoidable tragedies from happening? When it's time to leave-whether it's school or your life--make sure it mattered that you were even here."
Before his talk, Moore made it a priority to meet and talk to military veterans and students in a sociology class.
Moore's talk was a part of "Off to War and Coming Home," a year-long, multidisciplinary exploration of American war veterans during their service and upon reentry into civilian life. It is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, matched by generous donors. Community partners include the Bethlehem Area Public Library, Eastern Monroe Public Library, Bethlehem Area School District, Stroudsburg Area School District, Historic Bethlehem Partnership, and Monroe County Historical Association. Previous speakers in the three-year-old series have included historians Michael Beschloss and Doris Kearns Goodwin.
View more photos from this event on Flickr.
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